In a little over a month, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa, Florida, for the New York Yankees' spring training. Manager Joe Girardi is already figuring out how he'll shuffle around the pitching staff and starting lineup.
Despite the fact Aroldis Chapman posted sub-2.00 earned run averages in 2014 and 2015, his arrival all but blocked Dellin Betances' path to the closer role. Girardi confirmed Monday that Chapman will have first crack at ninth-inning duties, per the team's Twitter account:
Joe Girardi says … pic.twitter.com/PQnWqA8dA2— New York Yankees (@Yankees) January 11, 2016
The move makes a lot of sense. Chapman was the Cincinnati Reds' closer for the last four years, while Betances finished 28 games in 152 appearances in the majors. Just as Chapman could struggle a bit in a setup role, there's no guarantee Betances' dominance would regularly carry over into the final inning.
The only variable is whether Chapman will actually be available on Opening Day. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported MLB will likely rule on any possible suspension for the left-handed fireballer before March 1 after he was allegedly involved in a domestic incident with his girlfriend. Unless Chapman is officially suspended, he should be considered the Yankees' closer.
Girardi also provided a few more personnel updates, including what Alex Rodriguez's role will be and how often the team plans on using the recently acquired Aaron Hicks, per Jack Curry of YES Network:
Girardi said Chapman will be closer, ARod will strictly be DH, Hicks could play 4-5 times a wk & Sanchez is player he'll watch closely in ST— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) January 11, 2016
The news about A-Rod is hardly a revelation. According to Baseball-Reference.com, all but six of his appearances last year came at designated hitter. Barring an injury to Mark Teixeira or Chase Headley, Rodriguez should be kept away from first and third base.
The departure of the player sent packing in return for Hicks—John Ryan Murphy—opened up a spot at catcher, so Yankees fans will be happy to see Girardi will at least take a good look at Gary Sanchez. Baseball Prospectus rated the 23-year-old catcher the third-best player in the team's system.
In 93 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Sanchez hit .274 with 18 home runs and 62 runs batted in.
Calling up Sanchez to the majors would allow New York to lessen Brian McCann's workload behind the plate in 2016. If Girardi is willing to give Sanchez enough time this spring, he should prove himself worthy of a roster spot on Opening Day.